It is unpleasant, it can get messy, and it drains on your productivity. However, even though it is all that and more, politics is an integral part of life for all human beings. Philosophers have argued for many centuries that politics is innate to humans, Aristotle even called man ‘a political animal’ long before Darwin postulated the ‘social animal’ theory and no one has argued that since.
Even though it is unpleasant, and drains out productivity, it is still hard to admit for most of us that success at work is not only about the ‘work’. There is an element of office politics involved as well. It is like being your own publicist in the office, creating a perception of your competence, getting in the good graces of the right people, and in some extreme cases, staying away from rivals who are forever ready to pull you down to get ahead.
But, like everything else in life, politics at the workplace is a solvable problem. All you need to do is pay attention to the signs and start developing your ‘political radar’. Here’s how.
Keep your guard up at all times
This is a no-brainer. There are no free lunches, just as there are no ‘informal’ environments with co-workers. While a company retreat, or an office holiday party may look like a relaxed space where you could talk freely, it isn’t. Always remember that and keep your guard up, because as soon as you let it down, in comes the jab blindsiding you and ruining all the efforts and hard work you’ve put into your job over the years.
Cement your relation with your peers
It may seem odd to be advised to share knowledge and skills with your peers, but the truth is, you need to do that so that you’re never redundant to anyone. It helps you to cement a bond with your colleagues and reduces the chances of having to face difficult situations perpetrated by them. Such colleagues may share information with you about a possible organizational shift, or even something that might help you with your job. But do keep in mind, there are no guarantees of that happening and you still need to keep your guard up at all times.
Lay off the gossip
Speaking negatively about anyone behind their back can be counterproductive to your personal and professional growth. You may be tempted to talk about your direct competitors, but it is always advisable to lay off the gossip. You never know who would or could work against you. When instigated, stay away from responding in kind. This will help establish you as a mature and trustworthy person above politics. Always keep in mind that the boss will find out what is going on in the office one way or the other.
Fake it till you make it
There are always two aspects of your work - the actual productive work that you accomplish, and what others perceive you have accomplished.
Avoid being seen as the ‘center of the universe’ or a ‘chatterbox’ at work at any cost. If you are in the habit of finishing your work quickly, find yourself a skill that will add value to your career and spend some time improving yourself with that. But never be seen doing nothing at all.
Learn the art of self PR
Believe it or not - you are your own publicist in the workplace. Learn the art of tactfully updating your bosses about your new client wins, or your new skill enhancement certificate to show that you are indeed a productive member of the larger team. Make sure you never sound arrogant in such situations. An easy way to accomplish that is by ensuring you mention some of your colleagues who helped you in your accomplishment.
An organization free of office politics is a paradox. But, to mitigate the effects of politics on your work is well within your reach. Proactive strategies that offer preventive measures are always better than finding a cure to office politics. It is especially important for managers to know and be capable of perceiving and mitigating the factors that add to office politics to create a highly motivated, consistent and efficient workforce.